January 2016 will go down as a cruel time for the arts. Just days after transcendent musician David Bowie passed away at 69 from cancer, character actor extraordinaire Alan Rickman has died at the same age from the same dreadful disease.
Comfortable on the stage or screen, in front or behind the camera, Rickman was versatile and wickedly talented. He made his feature film debut in DIE HARD and completely stole the show from Bruce Willis by portraying one of the all-time great movie villains. Despite being a pretty off-the-cuff performance (he was cast days before filming), Rickman as self-styled terrorist leader Hans Gruber was a pleasingly simple villain – charismatic, tailored, claiming to be fighting for a greater cause but in fact just in it for the money.
Rickman continued to play villains in Hollywood with ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES as a campy and wisecracking Sheriff of Nottingham who shared more than a little DNA with Rowan Atkinson in BLACKADDER II (leather, earring, codpiece, sneer) and a perverted Judge Turpin in SWEENEY TODD for over a decade later.
Rickman didn’t – despite his (inaccurate) scary public perception – just play villains. He had a leading man’s presence, distinctive looks and deep, drawling voice allowed him to show a different side as shy and tender Colonel Brandon in Ang Lee’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY and again as Emma Thompson’s midlife crisis-suffering husband in LOVE ACTUALLY and he even indulged in a bit of knowing self-deprecation in stardom parody GALAXY QUEST.
No-one’s careers are without blemishes (voicing the Caterpillar in Tim Burton’s lumbering ALICE IN WONDERLAND and agreeing to appear in the risable GAMBIT remake sans clothing spring to mind) but Rickman always seemed to put his all into whatever he tried his hand at.
Rickman will be synonymous with different roles depending on your age and your interests. For me, a 90s child, he will always be Severus Snape, the most interesting, entertaining and contradictory character in the HARRY POTTER franchise. Rickman’s unique cadence and upright physicality were easily mocked, but perfect for portraying the dark heart of JK Rowling’s wizarding saga.
For all the high points in his varied career, the thing that really made Alan Rickman special was that he never seemed to look down on any project or anybody he was asked to work with. Fantasy or real-world, drama or comedy, family oriented or decidedly more adult, he brought great characters to life with passion and has left an indelible impression on generations. SSP